Oyster project raises funds for school’s Helping Hands
Being creative and making the most of natural resources has helped Michelle Shelderfer and her kids give back during this time of quarantine.
Relative newcomers to Daniel Island, Shelderfer and her boys found themselves doing one of the few things they were allowed to do during this time: taking long walks. Near their home on Captains Island, her son, Mason, a sixth grader, loves to scavenge oysters from the mud-covered banks along the Wando River.
“He’s obsessed. We love to put our pluff mud shoes on and walk along collecting oysters, picking up trash, looking at creatures,” she said.
With a big pile of collected shells stacking up, an idea was born. “Jayden, my oldest, a 10th grader, had joined BETA, but had not completed his community service hours. We turned nothing into something,” Shelderfer said.
The family cleaned and bleached the oyster shells, sealed them, and used paper prints to make them pretty. They then sealed them again with Mod Podge and finished off the project with decorative gold leafing. The first month was dedicated entirely to selling them to friends on Daniel Island via contactless delivery with proceeds benefiting Philip Simmons High School’s Helping Hands, a project that has fed 39 families with weekly food boxes.
“I personally visited food banks growing up,” Shelderfer said. “I remember how it feels to need.” So, she reached out to Mary Nemeth, who is spearheading the school’s Helping Hands group.
“These oysters have been pieces of grace,” said Nemeth. “Making people happy who buy them and for the blessings they’ve provided families we’ve been able to serve!”
The Oyster Project raised some $2,000 the first month and the joy has grown. One daughter whose mom was infected with COVID-19 saw the post on Facebook and placed the first big order of 100 oysters. She was not allowed to see her mom, a resident of Heartland Health and Rehabilitation Care, so Shelderfer and her boys made one for every single employee — simultaneously lifting the spirits of essential workers while funding food boxes.
This week, every senior girl at Philip Simmons High will be given an oyster ring holder with the Iron Horses logo during the scheduled drive-through event to turn in computers.
“The joy of their serving hearts” is huge, Nemeth shared. “We would not have been able to fund food without them. They’ve been like angels flying in right when we need them.” One family’s May and June rent was funded in part by The Oyster Project, she said.
Now that coronavirus restrictions have lightened, Shelderfer finds herself as a new businesses “momprenuer,” working the next path of the oysters: Pluff Mud Gems, with a portion of the proceeds continuing to be charitable. “I’m spending more time making personal oysters for people, putting their names on the shells with pictures of things they love.”
Nemeth plans to continue to lift spirits after restrictions are lifted. “Our contributions have gone down in a big way as things have started to open up,” she said, concerned about future contributions. “Families we serve have gone eight weeks without pay. This means no pay for rent, for health care, for food. One mom cleans office buildings, for example, and a lot of people are still working from home right now. She’s not cleaning, so she’s not getting paid,” explained Nemeth, who passionately pleads to “keep the blessings coming!”
To donate food to Philip Simmons’ Helping Hands, call 267-664-0904 for local drop-off points.